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…When Gate Nine Closed

Living so close to Gate Nine, the back entrance to Fort Chaffee and that being my address, I miss the convenience, not thinking that someday it would be closed.

I don’t know what sparked the idea for writing about Fort Chaffee, Gate Nine…and “Bucky” this morning. Perhaps it’s because of the newspaper reporting of all the good things going on in and around the reservation, or maybe it’s because…I’ve run out of address labels and mailing bills today, writing my return address over and over, or maybe from pondering, it’s the memory of being employed at Fort Chaffee, dating back to the 1950s, taking that route every working day…taking my place at my desk, along with other civilians and military personnel, in a building without air conditioning.

When Gate Nine entrance to Fort Chaffee was closed soon after 9-11, some thought it was temporary, but soon learned it was permanent, and for those of us living in Jenny Lind and Howard Hill, we were very disappointed. Not only did we lose the convenience of that route through Fort Chaffee to Fort Smith, but realized we would no longer be taking a short-cut through the scenic drive where many civilians were employed and thousands of troops were trained, searching for, admiring and counting the many deer that grazed on both sides of the road. About the only time the deer could not be spotted was during the hunting season when there was so much activity in the area from the hunters and the traffic and the deer stayed hidden.

Although deer are plentiful and especially on the Fort Chaffee reservation, there is something magical about seeing them up close. I remember, not long ago, late one evening seeing seven nervously grazing in my yard, just a short distance from my house. As I watched the deer, I thought of the handsome buck that was so well known on the reservation, that had made his home, roaming freely in the compound near the ammunition dump and close to Gate Nine. The route that I and other workers took daily keeping an eye out for “Bucky” where he could sometime be seen grazing so close to the road, some would stop and feed him through the fenced enclosure.

I don’t know if he was officially named, but he was referred to as “Bucky” by Col. Henry Larsen, then commander of Fort Chaffee when he reported the sad news published from the Chaffee Public Affairs Office that on October 24, 1987, “Bucky” had been found dead…shot through the fence with a bow and arrow. Why? Whoever shot him had no chance of recovering him over the ten foot tall fence which seemed safe for him for so long.

Residents like myself have accepted and adjusted to the change of Gate Nine being closed and “Bucky” being gone and now take the long-way-around by way of Highway 71, and if lucky from time to time spot a deer or two along the way, roaming on either side of the highway, but it’s just not as exciting as it used to be, a short distance from Gate Nine…spotting “Bucky” the handsome deer near the ammunition dump lazily grazing, who had grown into a beautiful nine-pointer, and in the words of Col. Henry Larsen, who was gentle as a puppy.